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The world’s biggest wave, explained

And how it has transformed a Portuguese town.

For centuries, Nazaré, Portugal, was just a small village known for its fishing and dangerous seas. Then, one day in 2011, professional surfer Garrett McNamara hopped on a surfboard and rode a 78-foot wave right off its coast. It was a new world record for big wave surfing and the moment that changed Nazaré forever.

Now, Nazaré is known around the world as the capital of big wave surfing. It’s where five of the six biggest waves ever surfed happened. The secret to Nazaré’s giant waves lies under the surface, where a huge underwater canyon funnels swells right up to its cliffs, then launches that energy straight up, sometimes 60, 70, or 80 feet in the air. Many surfers are here in the hope of catching a 100-foot wave and making big wave surfing history.

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